I’ve finally published something on the Human Rights of Subsistence Diggers. I cannot thank the editors of Ethics and the Archaeology of Violence, Alfredo González-Ruibal and Gabriel Moshenska, enough.
Summary execution and the death penalty for theft
The discussion exploded after American archaeologist Elizabeth Stone visited Iraq and found out that Coalition soldiers were ‘reluctant’ to confront looters ‘because’, if they intervened, ‘people were going to get killed‘. She declared that she would like to see ‘helicopters flying over there shooting bullets so that people know there is a real price to looting this stuff’ or ‘helicopters flying over these sites, and some bullets fired at the looters‘. She insisted that ‘you have got to kill some people to stop this’.
The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) condemned those calls to arms as ‘intolerable‘, but a number of its members did not agree. The then Director-General of the National Museum of Iraq, Dr. Donny George Youkhana, judged that, ‘if they steal from mankind… it is fair they should be shot‘.
In fact, the Coalition had been ‘flying helicopters low over archaeological sites, firing warning shots to shoo away looters’, and had been for nearly two months when Stone and Youkhana made their interventions. And at least ‘several’ looters had been killed at one archaeological site, while the authorities had imposed the death penalty. But even the threat of death didn’t stop the looters.
An end to all that
Last year, the Chairman of the Iraqi Parliamentary Committee on Tourism and Antiquities, Bakr Hama Siddiq, drafted a new law on the protection of cultural property that abolished the death penalty for looting, because ‘archaeological treasures are important, but human life is more important‘.
Virtues impracticable and extremely difficult: the human rights of subsistence diggers
In discussions at the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) in 2003, in my MA dissertation at University College London (UCL) in 2004, and in conference papers at meetings of the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) in 2004 and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in 2005, I asked if an illicit digger had a human right to loot antiquities if they had no viable economic alternative to access their most basic rights (to water, food, medicine, etc.).
The question was so contentious that I chose not to blog it until I had published it and, after a disastrous accidental first attempt immediately following the conferences, I didn’t revisit it until I was given this opportunity (so I am grateful several times over).
My argument had the dubious distinction of being discussed by other people first, in moral arguments on subsistence digging and the ownership of archaeological finds (the first of which was re-presented as a matter of archaeological site management); then, considered by more people who had read those publications, in an ethnography of looters and a contemplation of ethics and archaeological praxis (practice).
(I’m not at all criticising the people who discussed it. I gave my conference paper to one of the first authors and they communicated its contents accurately. It’s simply not ideal for the argument to exist only in summary form and amongst other discussions.)
As the abstract explains,
This chapter reviews how chronic and acute environmental and humanitarian problems, and economic and health insecurity drive the looting of archaeological sites, and how political and legal weaknesses enable and are perpetuated by illicit trading.
It considers the logic and effectiveness of shoot-to-kill policing of theft of cultural property, the deterrent effect of armed guarding of cultural heritage sites, and the potential for sustainable cultural economies and community education to reduce cultural destruction non-violently.
In the light of evidence concerning the socio-economic profiles of illicit antiquities diggers in Iraq, Mali, Palestine, Jordan and Niger, this chapter queries the argument that there are never sufficient moral grounds for antiquities digging.
It concludes that it is immoral and counter-productive to criminalise subsistence digging when there is no viable economic alternative.
The uncorrected proof is available at: https://conflictantiquities.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/hardy-2014-illicit-antiquities-trade-human-rights-proof-140904.pdf
The final publication is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4939-1643-6_14
Contact me for further details.
Contents of Ethics and the Archaeology of Violence
Chapter 1: Introduction: the only way is ethics. (Gabriel Moshenska and Alfredo González-Ruibal)
Chapter 2: Ethics in action: a viewpoint from Israel/Palestine. (Raphael Greenberg)
Chapter 3: Archaeological ethics and violence in post-genocide Rwanda. (John Giblin)
Chapter 4: All our findings are under their boots! The monologue of violence in Iranian archaeology. (Maryam Dezhamkhooy, Leila Papoli Yazdi and Omran Garazhian)
Chapter 5: Archaeology of historic conflicts, colonial oppression and political violence in Uruguay. (José María López Mazz)
Chapter 6: “Everything is kept in memory.” Reflections on the memory sites of the dictatorship in Buenos Aires (Argentina). (Melisa A. Salerno and Andrés Zarankin)
Chapter 7: Archaeology, anthropology and civil conflict. The case of Spain. (Alfredo González-Ruibal, Xurxo Ayán Vila and Rachel Caesar)
Chapter 8: A gate to a darker world: excavating at the Tempelhof airport (Berlin). (Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck)
Chapter 9: Archaeology, National Socialism and rehabilitation: the case of Herbert Jankuhn (1905-1990). (Monika Steinel)
Chapter 10: The ethics of public engagement in the archaeology of modern conflict. (Gabriel Moshenska)
Chapter 11: Military advocacy of peaceful approaches for cultural property protection. (Laurie W. Rush)
Chapter 12: Cognitive dissonance and the military-archaeology complex. (Derek Congram)
Chapter 13: Working as a forensic archaeologist and/or anthropologist in post-conflict contexts: a consideration of professional responsibilities to the missing, the dead and their relatives. (Soren Blau)
Chapter 14: Virtues impracticable and extremely difficult: The human rights of subsistence diggers. (Sam Hardy)